Olivia Lennon, John Tynan secretary, Tony Broderick chairman, Bogdan Negomireanu vice chairman and Razan Birvulescu treasurer from Athlone Access Awareness Group with Pat O'Toole Manager of Golden Island shopping centre at the new parking facilities last week.

Five new disabled parking spaces at Golden Island

Five new disabled car parking spaces have been created at Golden Island Shopping Centre, bringing the total number of spaces to 18.

Pat O’Toole, Manager at Golden Island Shopping Centre, says that the increase from six spaces three years ago was needed as they were often fully occupied.

“It’s fair to say that the spaces were always full,” Pat says. “These ones are more prominent with them being blue, but for a thousand space car park six was not enough.”

Athlone Access Awareness was heavily involved in the creation of the parking spaces, and Pat says that if it were not for the group the spaces likely would not have been created.

“It has been about three years since we got involved with the group, and if not for them and the work they put into enhancements and pushing for facilities, we probably never would have done this. We initially added another seven spaces, and now we have five more.

“They really brought the issue to the fore and spurred us on to do something about it. They’re important customers of ours, and we were lacking in provisions for people with disabilities. They do important work around town and I wish to congratulate them.”

John Tynan, Secretary of Athlone Access Awareness said that Pat and Golden Island Shopping Centre have had a great understanding of the needs of people with disabilities and the importance of wheelchair accessible bays.

“He has always taken our recommendations on board, not only with the parking bays but with the new WC that went into Golden Island about two years ago,” John said.

“It’s really exceptional. You can bring two or three wheelchairs into it, because some people who use wheelchairs, powerchairs or scooters need to have a personal assistant with the to help them to use the facilities.

“So that, along with the parking bays, has opened up Golden Island for so many organisations like St Hilda’s and the Irish Wheelchair Association and others that work with people with disabilities.

“I work for the IWA, and to be able to come down with a couple of busloads of people and to know that we can care for their personal needs makes such a difference. This is a green light for us.”

With regards to accessibility in Athlone town as a whole, John says there is always need for improvement.

“We work with best practice guidelines from the IWA, but sometimes they aren’t followed locally. Hatch boxes are important for someone who doesn’t have that great of mobility, and it gives them that guaranteed space to get in and out of their vehicle.

“This blue colour coding of the new spaces is also recognised internationally. It provides more of a warning for people who would try to abuse them because they know they’re not going to get away with it as much.

“Regular grey tarmac with a white symbol is much easier to get away with parking on if you’re not supposed to.

“There is a fine for parking in disabled spaces without a permit that was raised from €60 to €150 that was brought in by government a few years back, but it is not really enforced properly. We would love to see that change, and for the wider public to become more educated on it.

“That’s the whole purpose of our group – making people aware of the needs of people with disabilities, whether that’s in shops or other public areas.”

Bogdan Negomireanu says that it is not his disability that is a problem, but rather society’s reaction to his disability an how some areas are inaccessible.

“Athlone is pretty good for accessibility and it has been improving over the past three or four years,” he says.

“With Athlone Access Awareness and little things like these spaces at Golden Island, I can feel the difference. Having a group like this that comes together is important, because if I act alone I wouldn’t achieve much, but together we can make changes.”

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